Students Join Volunteers To Help Our Campus Flourish

student volunteers working in the gardenThis past year, our community volunteers found so many creative ways to stay connected and involved. Many found their time and love pouring into one of the newer additions to campus–our library gardens. Since the gardens just turned one year old this summer, this year is the first time that it has had volunteer tending to its plants and foraging its vegetables. While there are currently five dedicated parent volunteers, more recently, several Upper and Middle School student volunteers are spending their time taking care of our beloved outdoor space, too!

“The energy is wonderful. Cassie Atkinson has spearheaded the organization of things like the watering schedule (which is no small feat!), she has brought ideas and she even brought her Mum along, who spent a good couple of hours weeding,” said MPA parent and volunteer Michelle Mick. Read More

Two MPA Siblings’ Experience In The COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

devneet and navreenby The Biring Family, featuring ninth grader Devneet and eighth grader Navreen!

COVID-19 has forever changed our world. What began as a scary unknown more than 18 months ago has now been largely conquered by vaccines that have given our country and the rest of the world a fighting chance to defeat this virus. The first vaccines against COVID-19 were approved for use in adults (and people ages 16 and above in the case of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) in December 2020 with initial vaccines being given to high-risk groups including healthcare workers and elderly patients.

When our kids first found out that the vaccines had received emergency use authorization, they were excited! But that excitement quickly abated when they realized that vaccinations for younger populations were not likely to be available until at least the summer. Devneet and Navreen asked why would it take so long for them to get vaccinated, and we explained that there would need to be trials in the younger populations before the vaccines would be given to children. At that time, there were reports that it was difficult to get the necessary recruitment numbers for trials in children. Devneet and Navreen asked us if there was any possibility that they could be part of a trial. As vaccine rollouts continued in adults, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine trial recruitments were underway for younger populations in various cities across the country. We found out that one of the city sites for the Moderna adolescent study was Minneapolis, and we inquired about details of the study.

Moderna began enrolling adolescents, ages 12-17, in a Phase 3 trial across the United States to evaluate the efficacy and safety of their COVID-19 vaccine. The trial is comprised of 3000 adolescents in a blinded study with 2/3 of volunteers receiving vaccine and 1/3 receiving placebo. This 13-month trial requires five clinic visits with two injections (at the initial appointment and one month later), four blood draws, four nasopharyngeal swabs, and electronic diary submissions. The trial will end in the spring of 2022. Read More

A Legacy Of Resiliency And Perseverance

Prek students at track and field dayby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

As we close out the school year, I couldn’t help but think of the prologue from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. The series of paradoxes in the prologue rang true as I reflected upon this past year. We are living though one of the most extraordinary moments of our lives when just about everything has been turned upside down and called into question. Who could have imagined all that we would be faced with this year—a world-wide pandemic, social unrest, political discord, and racial reckoning?

If the pandemic has been a paradox, then this school year has been nothing less than a triumph. In the midst of darkness and despair, we found light and hope, resiliency, and perseverance. And while I sometimes take it for granted, I am reminded that is no simple feat to remain open throughout the school year and preserve the continuity of learning. It is true we’ve had our share of challenges and low points; our community is stronger and more resilient than ever.

In my first Panther Post message of this school year, I quoted author Diane Coutu who observed that resilient people possess three characteristics—a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. As I reflect upon this school year, I believe that our school and students have certainly demonstrated these characteristics. Resiliency and perseverance will be the legacy of our collective journey this year.

Even as this school year draws to a close, the Administrative Team has been hard at work throughout the spring planning for our next school year. Like we did at this time last year, we began by naming the values that would guide all decision-making, beginning with the health and safety of our community, on-campus and in-person learning, and a joyful, whole-child hands-on, experiential, exceptional learning. While there may be some necessary mitigation strategies, we will be monitoring the guidance from the CDC and Minnesota Department of Public Health throughout the summer and adjust plans accordingly. However, as vaccination rates climb higher and higher and young children begin to be vaccinated, fewer and fewer health and safety measures will be needed.

This is certainly a week to celebrate and I am pleased to bring back so many of our time-honored traditions, such as Kindergarten Graduation, Moving Up Ceremonies for the fourth and eighth grades, Lower School Vocabulary Bee, Track and Field Days, and Yearbook Assembly. On Saturday, we will bid farewell to a group of amazingly talented leaders and students who I am certain will continue to dream big and do right in all that lies ahead of them.

I want to thank you for entrusting your children to us. I also want to express my gratitude for investing in the school and our faculty and staff through your philanthropic giving. I am continually in awe of the generosity of our parent community and the strong partnership we have. Have a wonderful summer and I look forward to coming together again in August.

Celebrating What’s Next To Come

Karen Widerskiby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

As the school year hurries to a close and we look forward to celebrating the graduating Class of 2021, we are also celebrating two employees, payroll and benefits administrator Karen Widerski, and Middle School math teacher Dan Ethier, who are graduating on to other endeavors.

Karen came to MPA in the 2012-2013 school year after a long and successful career in human resources at Target Corporation. In her time at MPA, she has made wonderful impressions with colleagues. Rose Wick, who works alongside Karen in the business office, shares, “Karen is a true friend, the most hilarious person I have ever worked with.” Other coworkers describe Karen as “awesome,” “a hard worker,” “fun,” and “humorous.”

Karen purchased her father’s home on Child Lake in Hackensack, MN, where she will surely continue to the throw the best fourth of July party on the lake, complete with a fireworks show. She is very close with her family and will enjoy spending more time with her husband Jim, daughter Jess, and son Keith. Her father and brother live nearby as well. Karen is a pet lover who has raised several black labs, including her current dog, Jax. Up North, Karen will get to continue her love for the outdoors, especially, snowmobiling and cross country skiing, and she’ll have lots of time for the annual family trip to the Caribbean each winter.

“Karen came at a time when there was much change at MPA. She brought an amazing sense of calm and confidence, and she is always willing to do whatever it takes to get things done,” says CFO Gina Wallraff. “She is a major team player with an amazing can do attitude. We have relied on her tremendously and she just takes care of things. She will be missed.”

We all wish Karen a wonderful and happy retirement.

Mr. Ethier teaching math class

Dan Ethier joined MPA in the fall of 1992, and for 29 years, has been a fundamental part of the Middle School, as well as a highly successful and much loved cross country running and math league coach.

In the classroom, Dan exemplifies MPA’s experiential, hands on approach to learning. He built his curriculum on solving rigorous problems and he’s an expert on crafting open ended problems that require his students to apply their deep content knowledge in creative ways. Rather than giving students problems that have a clear, procedural approach, Dan instead sought ones where the methodology was not obvious nor straight forward from the start.

Dan’s problem solving approach connected academic rigor to real world concepts. Whether it was learning about investing and interest or measuring the depths of craters on the moon using trigonometry, his students have found themselves solving problems that apply mathematics to life.

Dan’s personal sense of curiosity and love for learning made him a great teacher as well. “Students ask good questions. I make sure to spend time pursuing those questions and demonstrating interest in them,” he says. “Sometimes I raise the questions myself. It’s about being curious myself and letting that spill over into the lesson.”

Though a math teacher, Dan fiercely advocated for all subject areas, and especially championed the fine arts. “The arts allow students to see the world in new and different ways, and that new vision will allow them to apply their science, technology, engineering, and math knowledge with the creativity and innovation our 21st century world needs.”

In the end, what most propelled Dan to the upper echelons of the teaching profession was his knack for truly getting to know each student he came across. He was known for writing a comment on every problem that a student answered incorrectly with advice on where they went wrong.

“Dan has been, and always will be, a cultural icon of sorts in the Middle School. From his silly stuffed animals, to his dry sense of humor, students have come to know math and themselves better in this great big world,” says Middle School director Jenn Milam. “We will all be better for having shared this journey with Dan–his passion for mathematics and teaching is out-matched only by his passion and love for Middle Schoolers.”

Dan also poured his heart and soul into Mounds Park Academy cross country. He took over the program in its infancy, and through his guidance and passion, turned it into a perennial contender and one of MPA’s most successful athletic programs. He took three teams to the state meet, placing as high as second in 2013, earned section 4A coach of the year honors in 2008, and coached six all state-athletes and two state champions.

Dan’s connection to his team is clear. He is invited to and attends nearly every graduation party, creates individualized race plans for each varsity runner at every meet, writes detailed recaps of each race, and is a true master of making everyone on the team, from state champions to sixth graders, feel welcomed, included and special. It’s no wonder that so many seniors on the team ask Dan for a letter of recommendation when heading off to college.

Dan coaches the right way, with humor, care, and respect. He instills a terrific work ethic in every athlete and transforms a sport that some find monotonous and difficult into something enjoyable and rewarding. Whether it’s the annual run to Dairy Queen, the game of “Foxes and Hounds” or the professional quality end of season banquets, Dan brings joy, sportsmanship, and camaraderie to the team.

As Dan moves on from MPA into retirement, I hope he will get to enjoy more time with his passions outside of MPA, including drone photography, distance running, astronomy, app development, and current events. And I know he will always be rooting for the next generation of MPA runners.

Please click here to leave farewell messages and well wishes for Dan and Karen!

Preparing For The Post-Pandemic World

8th Grade engineering showcase in the makerspaceby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

The pandemic has disrupted nearly all aspects of our lives and society. Families, civic life, the economy, and our government are just a few of the institutions that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. At the expense of being branded “Captain Obvious,” education has also been tremendously impacted by the pandemic. Most of the conversation has been about what students have lost, and rightly so. Many educators have great concerns about a significant learning gap for students who spent the year learning remotely. Poor mental health resulting from sustained isolation is also worrisome.

While there have been losses, students have also experienced tremendous gains. Over the last year, students were confronted with numerous challenges that they had never encountered before that they needed to overcome. Students had to learn how learn remotely, to discover new ways to express themselves and their ideas, and develop a measure of autonomy, independence, and personal responsibility. They also learned how to care for themselves and overcome isolation. They learned how to push though difficulty, bounce back after failure, and try something new. Read More

MPA Eighth Graders Making An Impact

In conjunction with their human rights research paper in social studies class, eighth graders researched charities aligning with a chosen human rights issue in their English classes using Charity Navigator and their charity’s website. Then, combining the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos, they created a TED Talk, speech, video, or print ad to persuade their peers to vote for their charity. Each of the three winners, Alex B., on behalf of The Sierra Club Foundation, Steve L. on behalf of Save the Children, and Zoya N. on behalf of Equal Justice USA, won a $50 donation to their charity from Ms. Atchison.

Alex B. with his donation“Climate change affects everything in our lives, and will only get worse from now on,” says Alex. “The Sierra Club Foundation is a leading member in the fight to solve climate change and make life better for everyone. They work towards climate solutions and they fight for environmental and social justice.” 86.9% of all donations go to directly to helping the Sierra Club’s four main programs: lands, air, water and wildlife!

Steve L. with his donationThe $50 donation to Steve’s charity Save The Children will provide meals to three children for an entire month. “What if every time you ate, you had to roll the dice to see if you were or not? Save The Children fights for the safety and future of the most unfortunate kids and gives every child, even the ones hardest to reach, voices,” says Steve.

Zoya N. with their donationEqual Justice USA fights for meaningful change and works at the intersection of criminal justice, public health and racial justice. “It’s insufferable that after so many years following the abolishment of slavery, systemic racism still thrives in our institutions and on our streets,” says Zoya. “All of us have heard case after case of police brutality, especially as Minnesotans. EJ USA meets the needs of survivors, advances racial equity, and works to abolish police brutality.”

Diligence Is Needed

ninth graders testing their mousetrap carsby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

If you’ve been in an airport recently, it certainly appears that the pandemic is waning. Having just returned from a short trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my 81-year-old mother whose health has been failing, I can attest to that. The lines to get through security are getting long again and planes are beginning to fill up again. It’s almost as if life is back to “normal” but we know that it is not, at least not yet.

There is good news as more and more people are getting vaccinated. Minnesota is near the top of the list of states with the highest percentage vaccinated with 64% of Minnesotans 18 years and older having received at least the first dose of the vaccine. And with the FDA recently authorizing the vaccination of children 12 and older, we may be in the last leg of the pandemic.

With all the positive news, it’s easy to forget that we haven’t crossed the finish line just yet. According to the Star Tribune, pandemic activity remains at high levels in Minnesota, which had the second highest rate of new infections in the latest White House COVID-19 state report released last Tuesday. While it is true that the risk is lessening as more people get vaccinated, given the rise in variants, our on-campus dial stop one mode, and increased cases in recent weeks, diligence is needed now more than ever. Read More

Talking With Children About Anti-Racism With Dr. Jazlynn Paige

Lower School Peace GardenDr. Jazlynn Paige is a school psychologist who has her own consulting firm Paige Psychological Consulting, which was founded in 2019. Dr. Paige shared tips for engaging children in difficult conversations about race, racism, and anti-racism with our community during a live parent education session. The thoughts she shared during that session are summarized below for families unable to attend.

Focus On Your Family
Every family is different and everyone has their own perspective with regard to how they view talking about race, racism, and anti-racism. Everyone is coming from a different background. For some families, these are very uncomfortable conversations, and for others they are much easier. But talking about it is important because no matter what age, children are experiencing ideas around race regardless of whether they are being discussed at home or not. Read More

Why MPA Parent Susan Knapp Volunteers

Parker and friends at recessby Susan Knapp (parent of Parker in ninth grade)

For the kids. There is something magical in seeing the joy on the kids’ faces, knowing you had a part in generating that. It’s a great way to get a glimpse into your child’s life at school—at least until they’re teens and don’t want you around at school. See what they’re like with their friends, get to know their class a little better, experience their camaraderie, their joy, and gratitude for the extras volunteers provide.

For the sheer joy of being a part of something bigger. One of the best experiences I’ve had volunteering was being involved in the MS Café. Using my talents and time in ways that I don’t normally has been very rewarding. I loved the teamwork, meeting the challenges, the creativity, and the gratitude and wonder on the kids’ faces as they walked into all of our hard work for the very first time. It was a labor of love and totally worth it. Another great experience was manning the snack room in pre-COVID teacher appreciation week. It’s a very fun way of meeting teachers and staff members, surrounded by sugar and snacks and gratitude. What can be better than that?! Read More

Boys Volleyball Finds Joy In Inaugural Season

Luke Zscheile smashes a spike in the Lansing Sports CenterWhen the Panthers girls volleyball team qualified for the MSHSL State Tournament in 2019, their achievement inspired many in the MPA community. Among those were a group of Upper School boys who saw their own future in volleyball. Fast forward two years, and the team is now competing in its first season this spring. “A lot of us had an initial interest in the sport, and we had watched it at the high school, college and professional levels,” recalls senior Callum Jones. We talked to the athletics department, started practicing, and asked (MPA Spanish teacher) Mrs. Kunze to be our coach. When she agreed, we got going.” Read More